“Democracy has taken root in our country and in our region, and with it have come peace and political stability. But all this will be little more than the shifting sands of illusion, if we do not take decisive measures to strengthen the moral fibre of our nation. In this context, it is legitimate for us to examine the root causes of crime and corruption…” Opening address by President Nelson Mandela at the Business Initiative Against Corruption and Crime, August, 15, 1995. This could be a speech delivered in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Covid-19 pandemic has supposedly created a world with a new normal. It is assumed that T&T is part of this transformed global village. Yet, in the area of corruption, it is the same storyline. Just look at the episode of the shipment of gasoline by Paria Fuel Trading Company Limited (Paria) to Venezuela, that occurred amid our Covid-19 lockdown. On March 26, 2020, permission was granted by the Ministry of National Security for Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, Asdrúbal José Chávez Jiménez, Juan Vicente Santana, Alejandra Bastidas, Manuel Jiminez and Major Kenny Jiminez to enter TT.
On March 27, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, met with Ms Rodriguez and Mr Chávez Jiménez. The reason for the meeting was to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic. Dr Rowley made it clear that at the time of the meeting, Mr Chávez Jiménez was not the President of Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA). Dr Rowley did not lie. Mr Chávez Jiménez was only so appointed on April 27, 2020. Of course, at the time of the meeting, Mr Chávez Jiménez was a member of a restructuring team at PDVSA, a company with which he enjoyed a long association. In 2004, he served as executive director of Commerce and Supply of PDVSA. As of 2005, he was appointed director of PDVSA and director of Citgo (a subsidiary). In 2007, he was in charge of the Vice Presidency of Refining, Commerce and Supply of PDVSA. In 2015, and 2016 he was appointed President of Citgo. It is understandable that the suddenness of the visit may have prevented Dr Rowley from knowing these facts.
The very next day, March 28, after the surprise visit, Paria said that ES Euro Shipping SA (ES Euro), a company registered and based in Geneva, Switzerland, approached the company to purchase gasoline destined for St Eustatius. ES Euro owned by Wilmer Ruperti (a close associate of Nicolás Maduro), has six total employees across all of its locations and generates $755,034 in sales (USD). It, however, contracted to buy 150,000 gallons of gasoline from Paria with a cargo value of over US$ 7 million.
• Continues on Page 14
• From Page 13
The Aldan, the vessel transporting the gasoline, would appear to have been heading in a direction other than St Eustatius when Paria contacted ES Euro. They informed them that the gasoline was going to Aruba. This development took place contrary to the fact that Aruba purchases its fuel supplies from the US Gulf Coast.
An amended contract was hurriedly prepared, after the original contract was executed and performed, to dictate that the gasoline would be sent to Aruba and that there would be no delivery to any country under sanctions (such as Venezuela).
The Paria gasoline deal is a poor reflection of the new normal and appears to be a manifestation of our post-colonial legacy in business transactions. There is no evidence of corruption, but rather at the very least, unbelievable naive business conduct on the part of Paria.
The gauntlet must be thrown down at the feet of the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the United National Congress (UNC). Corruption is the bane of this nation. Corruption Matters. The protagonists of the electoral drama must both succinctly elucidate, their firm commitment to anti-corruption mechanisms that would see T&T rid itself once and for all, of the corruption pandemic for which we are yet to discover a vaccine since 1962. No more toothless Integrity Commission. No more ineffective Prevention of Corruption legislation that would allow a decision-maker to simply walk out of a room as proof of probity, where a decision is being taken that would provide a financial benefit to the decision-maker and/or family members. No more Anti-Corruption Investigation Bureau. The time is now for radical surgery on the existing state infrastructure for curbing corruption. Noting findings of a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report, Helen Drayton has surmised that corruption is costing this nation billions of dollars (Cost of Corruption, August 30th, 2015). While her reflection was on the period during UNC’s governance, TT at that time was ranked 72 out of 198 nations in the Corruption Perception Index (1 being the least corrupt). For 2019, the ranking moved negatively upwards to 85. It would be interesting to note the views of Ms Drayton, at the cusp of a General Election, with similar timing as in 2015. So the challenge to the UNC and PNM is to place in the public space, their clear commitment to fighting corruption and give us a choice as to who deserves our vote now or our disdain in 2025.
“When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing - When you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors - When you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you - When you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice - You may know that your society is doomed.” Ayn Rand